Skill Level: Beginner
Hanging a picture frame, bookshelves or a mirror may seem like a simple task, but it can turn into a disaster if you don't find a stud to hold that heavy object. Finding a stud can be as simple as tapping on the wall with your knuckles or as high-tech as using a sensor that measures the density of the wall. Lowe's is happy to provide this information as a service to you.
The "Tap, Tap, Tap" Method
An old fashioned way to search for a stud is to rap the wall with knuckles or a hammer. Attach tape or thin padding to the face of the hammer to prevent marring.) The solid sound of the wooden stud beneath the wall will be different from the hollow sound produced by the spaces between studs.
Once you locate a solid area, drive in a test nail. If you are lucky, you may hit a stud on the first try — but don't count on it. More than likely, you'll miss to one side and end up making several trial holes before hitting pay dirt. Of course, any unwanted holes you make will have to be patched.
This method is most effective on drywall or walls which are covered with sheet paneling material with no form of rigid wall backing. Rigid and/or well-insulated walls make it more of a challenge. A plaster and lath wall, for example, may sound solid no matter where you tap it. When it comes down to it, you may find that your ear can't distinguish any difference and that all that tapping is getting you nowhere.
The "Let's Go Fishing" Method
If you think you know the general placement of a stud but just can't pin it down, this method should help. It creates an unwanted hole, but one hole is better than several. This method can be used in combination with the other methods mentioned here, and is often used as a last resort.
- Drill a small hole at a sharp angle toward the place where you anticipate the stud will be.
- Insert an insulated wire with electrical tape over each end through the hole until it contacts the stud. The wire should be heavy enough to be rigid, but thin enough to require a small hole: A length of insulated, 14 gauge home wire, for example, would be ideal.
- Bend the wire slightly at the hole, so that when it is removed you'll have an approximate indicator of the distance from the hole to the edge of the stud. It's only approximate because the measurement was made at an angle. The actual distance will be slightly shorter depending upon the angle and the distance between the hole and the stud.
- Using the wire and the hole as a reference, mark the stud location on the wall. Remember to add up to 3/4" to the measurement. You want to work from the center of the stud, not from its edge.
The "Wonders of Technology" Method
A low-tech and inexpensive stud finder uses a magnet to locate nails or screws which fasten wall materials to underlying studs.
These units will find the nails and screws, but they can also pick up metal conduit and galvanized pipes, so a little creative cross-checking in different areas of the wall is prudent when using these tools.
- Check 16" and 24" to the sides of a given reading to see if another stud is indicated. If so, this confirms the idea that the first indication was actually a stud.
- Bear in mind that nails in studs provide intermittent readings, while galvanized pipe and metal conduit provide constant readings to the magnetic finders.
The surest, most elegant method of stud-finding doesn't rely on tapping, trial holes or feeling about with a length of wire. Electronic stud finders locate studs by measuring the density of a wall. These units flash a light when a stud is found. By coming toward the stud from both ends, you can find and mark its edges, and then accurately determine its center.
After You've Found a Stud
Once you are sure you have located a stud, mark it with a light pencil mark. Use a plumb bob — a simple weight on a string — to transfer the mark up to the corner where the wall meets the ceiling. If the job you are performing requires that you know the locations of other studs along the wall, they can be found by measuring outward from your initial mark. Studs will usually be located either 16" or 24" apart, although the placement of windows and doors can complicate the situation. Double-check the anticipated stud locations with a stud finder.
The simple and unobtrusive pencil marks you make near the ceiling will make finding studs much easier next time. If you need to see the marks clearly during a job that requires fastening to several studs, put temporary pieces of masking tape at the marks to make them conspicuous until the job is complete. A plumb bob suspended from the mark will provide you with the vertical line of the stud.